October 10, 2007 · If you thought all contractors in Iraq were gun-toting American mercenaries, think again. Only a fraction of the estimated 180,000 contractors working on behalf of the U.S. government are security contractors — and the overwhelming majority aren't even from the U.S.
Consider Salim Khan, a dishwasher at a forward operating base in the volatile Iraqi province of Diyala. For about $1.25 an hour, the Pakistan native will work two years for a Saudi-based food-services firm, Tamimi.
Tamimi is a subcontractor to KBR, which itself was, until recently, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the mega-corporation that has won most of the big money contracts in Iraq.
Across the heavily fortified American bases in Iraq, men and women like Salim Khan cook the food, clean the dishes, chop the vegetables, take out the garbage and clean the latrines.
In military parlance, they're known as "TCNs" or "third country nationals," but they might as well be called third-world nationals. Most of the cheap U.S. labor in Iraq comes from places like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines and India. The average wage for these workers is about $20 a day; most work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.
The Pentagon and the State Department, under fire for the use of security contractors, have largely ignored the issue of fair labor practices among its contractors and subcontractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently noted contractors "take the place of soldiers" to do other, more pressing work.
Iraq is the first war in history where contractors have played a large role. About a half a million people, including contractors, troops and U.S. government civilians, work on behalf of the Iraq mission. continued